Title: Things I'll Never Tell You
Character/s: Merlin, Arthur, Gaius, Gwen, Gwaine
Summary: He had expected – feared – some kind of exchange, a life for a life, but what he had found instead was in many ways so much worse. [ sequel ]
Warnings: Secondary character death, angst, amnesia, post-5x13 fix-it that doesn't actually fix anything.
Word Count: 750w
Prompt: #282 Word Count (750w) and this soul-crushing post on tumblr.
Author's Notes: What's that, you say? There's not enough angst in this fandom? LET ME FIX THAT FOR YOU.
“He remembers nothing,” Arthur says, keeping his voice low. Merlin — the man who used to be Merlin — is only a few feet away, his head bent as he inspects the jars on Gaius’ shelves. From the way his mouth is pinched in a familiar moue of distaste, Arthur almost expects him to make a smart remark about the state of their contents, but he says nothing.
“And your wound is gone.”
It’s not really a question, but Arthur nods anyway. “When I woke up beside the lake, I was completely healed. And Merlin…”
He trails off. He doesn’t want to relive the moment when he’d first awoken, when everything had still been jumbled and raw and his first thought had been, dear God, what did Merlin do?
He had expected – feared – some kind of exchange, a life for a life, but what he had found instead was in many ways so much worse.
“Can you fix him?” he asks finally, even though he already suspects the answer.
Gaius’ face is grave as he shakes his head. “I will try, sire,” he says. “But I’m afraid whatever Merlin did to save your life, it seems highly likely that this— this memory loss is a permanent side-effect, if not a deliberate sacrifice on his part. The Old Religion does nothing for free, you know.”
Arthur thinks of his mother again, of his sister so recently dead, and clenches his fists. How many more people must magic take from him before it’s satisfied? “Do what you can for him,” he says tightly, and turning on his heel stalks out of the room.
They are still tallying the lists of the dead. Arthur is too numb to feel the grief when Gwaine’s name comes across his desk, but he is, in a way, selfishly glad that he will never have to break the news to Merlin.
On the third day, Arthur writes Merlin’s name on the list of the wounded, then rethinks it and crosses it out. This is not as simple as an injured limb, or a blow to the head that he might or might not recover from. There can be no sickbed vigil for his manservant-turned-sorcerer because Merlin is not ill. He just isn’t there.
Strangely, the thing Arthur feels most is anger. When his father died, he had been sad — shocked — furious, even, but he had also been busy figuring out how to be king, and the Uther he had known had been gone long before his body passed. It was always just a matter of time. With Merlin, there is a sense of things unfinished; a frustrating absence that catches him off-guard when he least expects it. He finds himself holding conversations in the dark and trying to imagine Merlin’s replies to him, but there’s only so much he can work out on his own.
Gaius can tell him some of it, of course, but he won’t, apparently in the misguided hope that Merlin will one day be able to do it for himself. There is no one else who can fill in all the blanks with any kind of accuracy. Arthur wants to grab Merlin and shake him, to shout at him for taking so much upon himself without ever mentioning it. If he had only told Arthur; if Arthur had known—
And that is the question that always trips him up. Because what would Arthur have done, if he’d known?
Gaius gives Merlin a job as his apprentice again, since Arthur can’t stand to look at him for very long. He tries not to regard Merlin’s condition as yet another betrayal, but he can’t help feeling there’s part of Merlin that must have wished for this on purpose, as a way to escape responsibility for what he had done.
There’s no point yelling at him now, though. Gwen talks to him sometimes, trying to find a connection, but Arthur avoids him whenever he can and keeps his statements short and to the point when he cannot. He dreams sometimes of Merlin’s face, the way it had looked in those moments by the lake when Arthur had thanked him. There had been so much more beneath those simple words, so many things Arthur had wanted to say and had run out of time for.
He has all the time he could desire now; how ironic, then, that even if he could find the courage, Merlin wouldn’t remember who he was or if he’d ever felt the same.